‘Til Death: Hephaestus
Part of the Free Reads Collection
Aphrodite. Her name alone was like the sweetest of summer wines on his tongue. She would be the hammer in his hand, the strength in his arm and chest. His wife. His alone. Goddess of love and lust—wife to Hephaestus.
A maenad, one of Dionysus’s girls, filled his chalice with a deep red wine, smiling at him with a flicker of madness in her eye, before giving a slight bow and backing away. He glanced down at the liquid, knowing it would give him the courage to bed the most beautiful woman in the world some hours later. Of course, he couldn’t drink too much. His new wife’s conquests were legendary, both on Mount Olympus and throughout all its peaks, her sexual prowess talk amongst even the lowliest human. She’d be accustomed to pleasure and finery, and while his lovers weren’t as numerous, Hephaestus hoped he could satisfy her.
Because all the others thought he couldn’t. No one would ever say it directly to him, but they all thought it, his brothers and sisters, mother and father, aunts and uncles. All the inhabitants of Olympus giggled when they learned that he’d won Aphrodite as his bride—the ugliest of them all marrying the most beautiful. Had he heard the same rumor, he too might have thought it was a joke.
Leaning heavily against a golden column, his dark eyes, black like soot, roved the wedding guests. Gods and goddesses. Nymphs and dryads. Even the occasional centaur and demi-god had warranted an invite to watch the spectacle of the three-day wedding ceremony. They were on the second day now, and Aphrodite had been his wife—officially—for hours. They’d come together for the first time tonight—and he hoped she’d speak to him, truly speak, before he bedded her.
While the Olympians might have thought his wedding—and perhaps his marriage—was something to scoff at, they’d spared nothing to create an exquisite ceremony. He and his new wife bathed in an ivory tub together to signify the washing away of their pasts. Aphrodite had cut her red waves to her shoulders, done traditionally as a symbol of shedding her virginity—there were many chuckles made as she did it, and Hephaestus had watched, frowning, as she put on a show for the bystanders. Still, at least the ceremonial halls were beautifully decorated, full of ivy littered with little pink and white flowers. Each table overflowed with food and wine, golden cutlery and plates and chalices offered for each guest to use and keep as a token of good will.
Everyone had commented on the magnificence of the scenery, but all of it paled in comparison to the splendor of his new wife. All his. Exquisite Aphrodite. She wore a dark purple chiton, belted with black leather in the knot he’d untie before they consummated their marriage. Laurel crowns adorned both of their heads, though Hephaestus had fitted hers with diamonds and gemstones and gold. Her veil, which had hidden her face through the ceremony, was black. Untraditional, yes, but Aphrodite was so lovely that the god of blacksmiths would let her get away with anything. All that mattered was that it was her waiting for him beneath the fabric when the time came to remove it.
And she’d been there, her lips turned upward in the slightest of smiles, her eyes shimmery like the sea. In that moment, Hephaestus didn’t care that the others were laughing at him—he was the luckiest man in all the world.
Finishing the wine in a single gulp, Hephaestus handed the goblet off to a nearby servant, nodding when the lithe woman bowed. The revelry was well underway, with most of his family verging on excessive drunkenness—and the sun hadn’t even set yet. The presence of so many creatures outside the immortal realm of the Olympian pantheon only added to the madness, steadily turning a subdued wedding ceremony into chaos. It was so rare that they were invited into the mountain domains in such great numbers, and he couldn’t fault them for wanting to take advantage.
He passed Poseidon, his great uncle sprawled on a pillow arrangement with his sea nymphs around him. They listened to his tale with rapt fascination, the god’s hands gesticulating and wandering at will, touching and petting soft fleshy arms and thighs—his wife was nowhere to be seen.
Zeus presided over the whole ceremony from atop his great throne, which came with him to every major occasion. Had Hera not been there, perhaps Hephaestus’s father might have been more like his brother, with women fawning over him and fighting for his attention. Instead, he simply watched, his wild hair tamed for the event, a drink always in hand.
Hephaestus gripped the smooth wood of his cane, one of the few parts of his life that did not revolve around brimstone and fire and ore. He’d requested the wood to feel grounded to the earth instead of the fire, knowing that was best for him. How easy it was to lose himself in his work, but the cane reminded him of the world beyond his workshops, embedded deep in the hearts of live volcanoes.
When he spied his new wife, he wished, fleetingly, that he didn’t need the cane. The wood was a comfort to him on most days. Resistant to flame. Unyielding—like him. But in that moment, he wished he didn’t need it, that his foot wasn’t so deformed. He’d learned to live with his lameness, learned to forget the disgust on Hera’s face when she realized her son would be a cripple for all his life. But seeing his Aphrodite there, nestled between Dionysus and Ares atop another cluster of pillows, he wished his lot in life had been different.
Only for a moment.
He stood tall, his chest broad and arms thick from work. He might not have had the sun in his hair like Apollo, nor the raw masculinity of Ares, but in time she would appreciate him. After all, his wife was the goddess of beauty too—and she could, no doubt, see the splendor in all things living.
“Wife?” His voice cut through their conversation, and he tried not to notice the way her smile faded when her eyes drifted over to him. Dionysus continued to grin, his lips pulled back in a way that was almost maniacal. The young god enjoyed the tension—thrived off it. He wanted the chaos to grow, to swallow all the guests of Hephaestus’s wedding until it mimicked one of his typical parties.
Not today, young one. He gave the man a stiff nod, and Dionysus toasted him with his chalice, then toppled back dramatically as he drained the cup dry. A few maenads nearby cackled, their teeth stained with wine.
“Perhaps you’ll grant your new husband a dance,” he said as she watched him expectantly. It wasn’t really a question. She’d dance with him because she was his wife, because she had to, but he hoped that one day she would genuinely want to.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you dance before, brother,” Ares mused, helping Aphrodite to her feet. Hephaestus’s eyes flickered to the god’s hand, large and imposing, on her hips as if to steady her. “Should be quite the treat for all of us, I think.”
A flash of heat tickled his cheeks, though they were hidden beneath such a thick beard that he was sure no one would notice. Somehow, his brother would know, yes, but the rest wouldn’t see the way Ares had affected him. Without thinking, he stroked the thick hairs on his face. Normally wild and free, he’d combed and oiled them for today, hoping his new wife would approve.
If she did or didn’t, she gave no indication. Her movements were fluid around him, smooth like a freshly pounded blade. He’d noticed with the others she always gave a show of sorts, her hips swaying and breasts bouncing, but with him, she was almost demure.
Almost. Demure would never be a word to describe his foreign wife, and Hephaestus wasn’t naïve enough to think it.
She placed her hand on the crook of his elbow, delicately, like she was barely touching him—he wished she would. If she had, she’d feel that he was metal and ore, sturdy and strong. Had it not been for his foot, his warrior status would be unchallenged. And Aphrodite delighted in the life of a warrior—perhaps she’d see beyond the deformity, like he had, to what his spirit whispered about him.
But for now, all he had to do was prove he could carry her, hold her, keep her close amongst all the dancers. If the rest of the feasting guests had descended into revelry, the dance floor was a sea of reckless abandon. Lyres and harps and flutes joined together to create a furious beat, stirring the wedding guests into a frenzy. No one stopped to admire the newly wedded couple, too lost in their own worlds of laughter and foot stomping and arm flailing to realize Hephaestus and Aphrodite were among them.
He swallowed hard as they strolled into the crowd, and when they faced one another, Aphrodite set her hands on his shoulders. Heat continued to plague him, both from her touch and from the curious stares of onlookers. Not wanting to disappoint her, he tossed his cane aside, the sturdy wood clattering on the outskirts of the dancers. His cheek twitched as he steadied himself on one foot, unable to put much pressure on the gnarled one hiding beneath his loose trousers. He’d never cared to hide it before, but when he wedded the most beautiful creature in all the worlds, he wanted his weaknesses tucked away.
His one weakness. Physical anyway. He now had another weakness, almost equally torturous, and she stood before him, shifting closer as her hands knitted together behind his neck.
Unfortunately, no matter how strong his desire to please his new wife, he couldn’t exactly move much on one leg. Sure, he could hop, but he’d no interest in seeing her exasperated look as she stood in front of him. He tried to move, to sway, to find a rhythm, but in the end proved absolutely hopeless. Laughter tickled his ears, and he shook his head, trying to block it out.
Then, without prompting, Aphrodite slide one arm around his waist, pressing her supple body to his, and with that arm, she held him upright. The other hand threaded through his thick black hair, her face so near to his that he could feel each breath she gave.
It was she who set their movement, rocking them back and forth, hips pressed snugly together. The laughter stopped, though he still wasn’t impressed to require his wife’s assistance to dance.
And yet he wouldn’t have it any other way. She was so near, holding him like her life depended on it. Clutching him just as he clutched her.
“You’re so beautiful,” he told her, his voice tight. He wasn’t one for flowery words or declarations of love. Hephaestus preferred to show it, and he had a mountain of gifts waiting for her in her new home at the heart of his favourite volcano. His palace within the spell-bound bowels of Mount Olympus was more of a vacation retreat, one he never used.
Perhaps he would now, with his wife in tow. They’d lounge by the pools, her nude form splayed only for his eyes.
“And you’re very handsome,” she offered in return, and before he could say anything else, she tilted her chin up and closed the distance between their lips. She tasted like the sweetest wine, and he wanted to devour her right then and there. Lips parted, he almost did, sliding his tongue into her soft mouth, dominating, reminding all those who watched that she was no longer for them to take, to taste, to enjoy.
When their dancing came to a natural end, Aphrodite retrieved his cane, leaving him alone amongst the drunken wedding guests for only a moment. After walking her back, he let her settle between Ares and Dionysus again, knowing now, finally, that they could laugh all they want—because Hephaestus had won the war.
* * * *
In the bowels of his volcanic home, Hephaestus made Aphrodite his true wife. He’d touched her, kissed her, suckled her flesh—bedded her atop his hard mattress, taking more pleasure buried in her body than he ever had before. She’d been perfect, of course—or, at least, almost perfect. Her reputation was well-earned, and his new wife satisfied him many times over the course of the night.
He only wished that her eyes were more… present. That she hadn’t fucked him like they had an audience. In time, maybe, she would let her guard fall, and she’d be herself for him. He knew to be patient—the luckiest man in the world could be patient with a creature as divine as she.
Never had the love goddess looked so out of place. As she crawled off his enormous bed, her skin stood out brightly against all the dark furniture, the black rocky walls and floors. He was paler, given his inclination to work indoors, but at least he seemed to belong with all the harsh edges and sharp corners.
Saying nothing, his wife poured them both glasses of wine, bringing one back to him while she kept hers clutched to her chest. As Hephaestus downed the whole thing, parched from their lovemaking, Aphrodite took the smallest of sips, then turned away. His eyes followed her to the treasure trove he’d presented to her when they’d first arrived, and she sat before the pile on her knees, picking through the gold crowns and silver necklaces and bejeweled bracelets. Corsets of diamonds. Shoes made of emeralds. He’d spent the months leading up to their wedding building for her, earning the ire of the other gods who needed their weapons mended.
Their anger was nothing. It rolled off him, never once piercing his worn, leathery skin. The look in her eyes when she saw her gifts had made every curse, every insult, worth it.
“Aphrodite?” He sat up, studying her more closely. Her head turned slightly, though she continued to trail her hands over the glittering diamonds, sparkling in the light of the nearby fire. “Are you happy?”
Without missing a beat, she replied, “Most happy, husband.”
Though she wouldn’t look away from her horde, her voice slightly off, lacking the genuine tone he’d hoped for. Nodding, he lay back down and tucked his hands behind his head. Time would change her tune. He’d shower her with gemstones and jewels and all the riches the natural world had to give until she loved him.
For now, he merely beckoned her back to bed, and decided to enjoy his wedding night as any man should.
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